Les Bains des Docks by Jean Nouvel



Les Bains des Docks is an aquatic centre in Le Havre, France, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.


The 5000 square metre complex comprises 12 pools, including a 50 x 21 metre outdoor pool, several leisure pools, a sauna, hammam, spa and fitness room.


The interior is covered in white tiles; brightly-coloured foam blocks form a children's play area.


"It is a paradox, a building on a harbour scale, inspiring simplicity and robustness, but which betrays its complexity as soon as one penetrates its volumes," says Nouvel. "One enters a universe of whiteness and depths."


The centre opened in July last year and is part of a masterplan to regenerate the docklands area.


Photographs by Clément Guillaum.


The following information is from Jean Nouvel:


The Aquatic Center  is composed of three principal entities: An external and heated sports pool of fifty meter long by twenty one meter wide, a play pool interior/external and a center of balneotherapy. The access is made through a single reception hall serving the cloakrooms of the play and sports pools and the cloakrooms of the balneotherapy center.


On the same floor, other suspended beaches and two suspended pools are accessible from the play pool. An internal connection connects all these pools for the visitors provided with a proper Pass. The center of cardio-training and its cloakrooms, the administration with a separate access, and the free access cafeteria, are arranged on the same floor and directly connected to the hall. The access to the technical premises located under the beaches is made though an open sky yard at the back of the building. A delivery l'espace is integrated in the building.


A Port even before being a city, Le Havre accompanied all along its history all the transformations related to the developments of maritime trade. With the technical progress and the irrepressible increase in the volume of trade, the port has built new infrastructures adapted to the new requirements.


Liberated territories are today returned to the city and opened to a new urbanity. New trade and leisure spaces are spread out there. The same for culture. Of the program worked out by the council, the Sea Discovery Center is the most symbolic, which embraces at once the estuary environment, the history navigation in Le Havre, the saga of the steamers and the future of the region.


To the belfry of the town hall and the tower of control of the port a new seamark, a high and clear signal, a strong symbol of the entry of Le Havre in a new era us to be added. Deploying its hieratic structure marked by two vast punts the tower of the Sea Discovery Center dominates all the territory and allows visitors to discover it in all its magnitude, its diversity and its magnificence.


Anchored in the mineral mass of the wharves, it stands like the mast of a ship, a look out post to offer to the visitor the everlasting show of men’s activities, arrivals and departure of the ships and trembling limit of changing skies and moving waters.


The regulating plan of Le Havre: a contribution.  Successively military naval port, outer harbour of Rouen, commercial port where the vessels from Brazil, the Antilles, Africa, but also from England and the cities of  la Hanse come to land, city where traders of coffee and spices, slave traders and other actors of the triangular trade have met long before becoming a port for  transatlantic travellers, then a terminal of tankers and container ships, Le Havre will have embraced all the fluctuations  and changes of maritime and international trade. Like its competitors, Le Havre had to give up its obsolete harbour infrastructures little by little. Thus, the docks dating back to the XIXth century are widely obsolete today. They are noticeably very close to the City Discovery Center.


The creation of Port 2000 has caused a global reflection on the future of the relationships between the city and its port. From now on, territories which were by nature distinct from the city, are part of it. From the reference area such as suggested by the program, one notices that within the borders of the well structured city by Perret a series of basins, docks, peninsulas, form a discontinuous fabric, a patchwork, an archipelago with each component having lived a specific history linked to a specific function.


This diversity which is welcome is accentuated by the range of projects already launched by the city, and which includes at the same time places with an administrative vocation (the Chamber of Commerce), touristic (hotels), residential (housing), hospital (a private clinic), of services (offices), commercial and leisure in a landscaped framework which tries to requalify circulations, and planted natural public spaces. All of these projects tend to establish continuity with the spirit of each small island of this archipelago.


The reflection framework proposed aims at reinforcing this bond with the spirit of the places. All the more solid and strong bond that traditional activities continue there to some extent: "the island" of the Citadel is for its greater part reserved for the harbour station of the ferries; the western point of the holy district Nicolas still includes dry docks still at work.


The parts released on a medium term basis will have to be converted into the logic of the typology of the existing docks, with low and linear buildings either recycled existing warehouses, or new buildings.  Deprived of their industrial use, dedicated to activities closely related to the new vocation of the places, (a marina for the basin of the citadel for example or a nautical base at the end of the Holy district Nicolas), These places will be domesticated thanks to the insertion of a strong vegetable structure adopting the volumetry of the buildings, their linearity, their functional logic, their direct character and without affeteries.

The conversion of the Citadel basin, its extension and its prolongation by the channel towards the La Barre basin to constitute a new marina from 300 to 600 rings can in the long term contribute to generate a set of activities directly related to leisure sailing, wintering, maintenance, ship chandlers, and dealer sailings.

The presence of the ferries in the site is nevertheless welcome. They belong to its identity and they are a door towards England. They could be integrated into the new plan provided that only the activity of transport of passengers is maintained Otherwise, the plan will be extended on the whole site. Restaurants, discotheques and cafés, will take set up there logically. To facilitate the access of the pedestrians coming from the town center to the Citadel, a footbridge will be installed above the La Barre basin.

In response to the Aquatic Center, two massive blocks enclose the base of the sea discovery center tower on Antilles wharf. They contain part of the permanent exhibition the public forum, the administration, as well as the maintenance buildings of the center. From the wharf of the Vatine dock, in the alignment of restaurants and cafés of the Vauban docks, the entirely glazed entrance offers a total vision of the tower from bellow.

This large canopy accommodates the hall, the cafeteria, the shop and the services in charge of the exhibition visit. The 120m high metal tower dominates the port of Le Havre. Two plates, one of 1200m² to 55 m and the other of 2000m² at 90 m, accommodate the temporary and permanent exhibitions and view point restaurant of the Center. The access is made through two panoramic elevators: one giving direct access to the temporary exhibition and the restaurant, the other forming an integral part of the permanent exhibition route.

The amusement park on the topics of the sea and the environment of the estuary surrounds the Sea Discovery Center. Its initial surface is increased by the space liberated by the tower. It will be an additional resource while waiting for a future extension of the Center on the ground.

More Dezeen stories about Jean Nouvel:



Tour Signal


2008 Pritzker Prize


Maison Tropicale in London


53 West 53rd Street


The Landmark, Beirut


100 11th Avenue


Peirao XXI in Vigo


Abu Dhabi


Dubai Opera


Doha in Qatar


Corian Nouvel Lumière


La Philharmonie de Paris


100 11th Avenue


Abu Dhabi Museum

Posted on Tuesday January 13th 2009 at 1:51 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • SouL


  • Wow, hell of a way to wake up, the Les Bains des Docks just blew my mind. Fantastic!!

  • inside this pools, there is other world, great!!!

  • Hals Pal

    Ditto the above!
    I can’t explain why we architects love white so much but we obviously do!
    Pure, clean, simple/complex…

  • Daniel

    this might be one of nouvel’s best work, its been a long time since i got so overwhelmed by one of his works. amazing.

  • Peter

    I´d say this is … WHITE. Reality looking like a rendering is a good sign.

  • odris

    yeah is like heaven………

  • yes……clean :))))). been there 3 months after the project was open to public. the detail is horrible, quite cheap, the beautiful white walls are all dirty. it looks good on photos taken some hours after the reception. but after some months of use the result has nothing to do with the images. it is a beautiful project, but only in models or rendering. in reality it will age extremely ugly.

  • ah, one more thing…….wondering why there aren`t any images with the exterior (here and basically everywhere this project is published) ? guess :)

  • hank crane

    to many corners and edges for a space where people walk an run almost naked around….

  • torok

    it might be dirty, but i would say some stains can’t destroy good architecture and good space… on the pictures it seems to me that this is good architecture and good space!

  • Lski


  • g22

    wow! very nice! i love the bit of bright color! it pops!

  • …KrLoS…

    hank you are not supposed to run around the pools……didn`t you read the signs? hahaha…..just kidding. I DO LIKE THIS PROJECT…..it transmits peace…..i could relax in here…..GOOD JOB

  • modular

    Jean Nouvel really has outstanding works. This is great!

  • These pictures are renderings, aren’t they?

  • I don’t think white is really a good idea, esp. where water and chlorine is concerned. The surfaces will turn green over time.

  • looks like a breath of fresh air. So many different space conditions within a pool area. I like it.. large open space pools have been victorian and never moved forward, but this is something quite unique..
    want to go there now!! Love the colourful room..beautiful..

  • Em

    A more complete set of pictures, exterior included are available on Flickr at


    or search for Les Bains des Docks.

    I do not know how it is aging, but the architectonic space and the pictures are amazing.

  • Ben

    Glad to see him back in his comfortable zone …

  • Lite

    Wow, this is just beautiful.

  • Martin R

    This could be very influencial, especially the play with water, planes and levels.. as others have said, I do wonder about the sharp edges/corners and white surfaces (how will it all look in 2 years time, let alone 20 years?).

  • waka

    i wonder how much photoshop work has been put in theese pictures to make them look like perfect renderings? i naively hope that none

  • Ivf

    I don’t think those pictures have been edited. I went there and the space was exactly like the photos above. Very fascinating space.

  • batman

    its no lesinokowski!!!!!!

  • JDR

    Wow, the power of a castle vs. the joy of a waterdrop. Truly amazing images, and a very polyvalent design i think. I agree with Martin R. however, i think a superwhite sharp architecture is also superfragile, especially with water.
    But hey, an excellent example why he won a pritzer price!

  • Jes

    i love this design~

  • charlotte


  • wonderful design … love it, i wish i can visit it one day

  • Christopher

    Does anyone else think Nouvel could have chilled out on some of the moves he’s making?

    Though it’s really nice, my eyes keep wanting the spacial moves to be simplified more.


    bizarre surgery-bathing experience. it be great for horror movie, with red blood stains everywhere. otherwise appalling!